The Bridge at Borisov

The next obstacle for the Grande Armée was the Berezina river.  Napoleon was counting on being able to cross the river on ice, but a recent thaw had made that impossible.  Marshal Nicolas Oudinot was charged with the responsibility of capturing and holding the bridge at Borisov.  An advance unit of Poles managed to seize the bridge, but were driven off when the Russians arrived.  On November 23rd, Oudinot arrived with a larger force and charged into the town, routing the Russians, capturing 1,000 men and  300 supply wagons.  However, as they retreated across the bridge, the Russians set it on fire and destroyed it.  Now the two sides faced each other across the river without exchanging shots.

Oudinot sent reconnaissance parties north and south to find suitable fords where bridges could be constructed.  One of the places to be checked was Studenka about six miles north of Borisov.  Meanwhile, Napoleon was deciding between heading for Minsk and re-capturing his recently lost supply depot there or going to Vilna.  Minsk involved too much of a risk and Vilna was chosen.  Napoleon ordered the building of bridges at Studenka.

To keep the Russians guessing, Oudinot was ordered to show activity at all crossing points up and down the river.  Now it was a race to build the bridges and cross while facing Russians on both sides of the river.

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